PORTLAND, Ore. — An aggressive federal campaign to suppress unrest in Portland appears to have instead rejuvenated the city’s movement, as protesters gathered by the hundreds late Friday and into Saturday morning — the largest crowd in weeks.
Federal officers at times flooded street corridors with tear gas and shot projectiles from paintball guns, while demonstrators responded by shouting that the officers in fatigues were “terrorists” and chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets.” Protesters in Portland have gathered for more than 50 consecutive nights.
While the protesters have repeatedly decried the city’s own police tactics, Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also serves as police commissioner, and other leaders have united in calls for federal agencies to stay away. City commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty went to join protesters gathered outside the county Justice Center downtown, saying the city will “not allow armed military forces to attack our people.”
“Today we show the country and the world that the city of Portland, even as much as we fight among ourselves, will come together to stand up for our Constitutional rights,” Ms. Hardesty said Friday.
While officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have described the stepped-up involvement of federal officers as part of an effort to oppose lawlessness in the city, state and local leaders on Friday contended that the federal officers themselves may be violating the law.
Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the injury of one protester, who appeared to have been shot in the head with a less-lethal weapon outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has filed a lawsuit, accusing federal officers of unlawful tactics in how they went about detaining people by pulling them into unmarked vans.
The pushback against the militarized federal deployment involving officers in fatigues and tactical gear has also extended to the streets, where the presence of those federal agents has rejuvenated a movement that had shown signs of finally slowing down after weeks of protest against police violence and militarization.
Hundreds continued to demonstrate after midnight on Saturday, playing music, holding shields, tearing down temporary fences and throwing fireworks at the county’s Justice Center.
Along with street medics, protesters also have the support of a snack van that offers free Gatorade and instant noodles, and a makeshift kitchen called Riot Ribs that cooks bratwursts and even a Beyond Meat sausage. Someone on Saturday had set up a stand selling T-shirts promoting racial equity and hand washing.
The protests have long featured a mix of tactics, with some there to sustain a Black Lives Matter movement that emerged in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in May. Others have engaged in more unruly responses, such as graffiti or throwing objects at officers. Dozens have been arrested over the weeks, including some by federal officers, such as a man accused of hitting an officer with a hammer last week.
Protests around the federal courthouse — tagged with messages such as “Stop Using Violence On Us” and “History Has Its Eye On You” — have drawn the ire of federal leaders. Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, got a tour there this week and shared images of himself in front of graffitied walls.
The arrival of a more aggressive federal presence came after President Trump, who at one point called on states to “dominate” protesters, directed federal agencies to increase their presence to protect federal properties, including statues and monuments that have at times been the target of protesters. Mr. Trump said last week that he had sent personnel to Portland because “the locals couldn’t handle it.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in an interview she believed the protests were starting to ease before the federal officers waded into the scene. She said she asked Mr. Wolf to keep federal agents off the streets but that he rejected the suggestion.
Mr. Wheeler, the mayor, said he got the same response. But he said he believes the unified local response could change the federal tactics and keep federal officers off the streets.
“I can’t recall a single instance where we have had federal, state and local officials all in alignment, saying the presence of federal troops in our city is harmful to our residents,” Mr. Wheeler said.
State and local leaders have opened new efforts to combat federal agents.
Ms. Rosenblum said her office was working with Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill on a criminal investigation focused on the injury of a protester on July 12. In that case, video appeared to show a man being struck in the head by an impact munition near the federal courthouse, and his family said he subsequently needed surgery.
The attorney general’s office also filed a lawsuit late Friday accusing federal officers of using unlawful tactics. Protesters, along with videos posted on social media, have described scenes of federal officers seizing people and pulling them into unmarked vans.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon has also filed in court to curtail the actions of federal officers, and the group said “many” more lawsuits that will be forthcoming.